A test tube. A few chemicals and colours. And you have dinner ready.
Sounds weird? Well, this is what molecular gastronomy is all about. Mixing cooking and science to create food. Understanding food, how it is cooked and why it cooks the way it does forms the basis of this science. Then comes the part where the techniques to cook the food are combined with different ingredients to create food that is truly delicious while also being truly quirky.
The science of molecular gastronomy or culinology as it is now known is practiced by a small group of dedicated scientists cum chefs. These are chefs who break down the process of how food is made and then apply scientific methods to create new ways of cooking. Heston Blumenthal is one of the pioneers of this art and he is known to have raised the science of molecular gastronomy from the obscurity it once was in, to the stature it now has. The owner of the three Michelin starred ‘The Fat Duck’, Blumenthal brought this offbeat way of cooking to the forefront of restaurant kitchens. With shows like Top Chef encouraging this style, this seems to be the next big thing of the hotel business.
This is still a relatively new area of study with reference to courses offered by colleges. But a knowledge of science, a love of experimentation, a love for food and a passion for the art of cooking are prerequisites for anyone interested in pursuing a career in this field. There are a few select universities which offer a specialization in this field. Though technically it is a culinary degree, the course combines food science with culinary arts to give a rounded perspective.
The Research Chefs Association (RCA) has started undergraduate courses in about 10 universities in culinology. They are flexible courses, which are sometimes offered in partnership with two or more universities. The California State University in Fresno, Clemson University in South Carolina, Louisiana State University in Louisiana, Purdue University in Indiana and Rutgers University in New Jersey are just a few of the universities, which are approved by the RCA and offer Food Science courses with a special focus on culinology.
Internship programmes and on-the-job learning are two other ways to understand this niche field. Science is all about application and practice, which makes the art of molecular gastronomy particularly interesting. Adding this dimension to usual, run-of-the-mill cooking techniques also adds zing and panache.
The salary structure for jobs in culinology is pretty basic. Just like with all hotel management and chef jobs, the work is tiring and demanding and the pay starts off pretty low. Also with all other jobs, the better you are and the harder you work, the more you will be paid.
A niche but exciting field, this is an art that takes the best of science and food and puts them together. This is a field that is still unknown in India. It is making waves in Europe, Australia and the United States of America though.
So, if you are a chef who loves science or a scientist who loves cooking or basically you love food, then maybe you should give molecular gastronomy a try.
Ayesha Sruti Ahmed